Finding Disney in Warrnambool… Again!

When you’ve vacationed in Disney World, worked for Disney World, and are accustomed to frequent visits to The Most Magical Place on Earth, it is easy to quickly become deprived. I’m quickly rounding the corner on surviving 9 months without having set foot on pixie dusted soil.

I have had certain things to help satiate my inherent Disney addiction… In a previous post, I mentioned WDWRadio. Since my early years of high school, I’ve been listening to Lou Mongello’s Disney-focused podcast (available on iTunes) for the latest news, trivia, history, reviews, and so much more. It’s a wonderful dose of magic and keeps me in the know! (The new updates to Animal Kingdom sound like they’re going to be amazing!). I’m also an avid reader of The Disney Food Blog. It’s a great website that keeps track of new and updated food finds around the park. The have reviews, news, food showdowns, holiday food updates, the latest Food and Wine Festival information, and more. They also have a podcast on iTunes that is relatively new. With all the wonderful food in Disney World, and the constantly changing menus, I find it helpful to keep up with the latest blogs. (That way I know where to make my next reservation when I head into the parks… or which food favorites have disappeared… RIP Main Street Bakery with the amazing Blueberry Muffin… RIP)

Main Street Bakery Blueberry Muffin (the perfect 20th birthday breakfast)

Main Street Bakery Blueberry Muffin (the perfect 20th birthday breakfast with a lovely smile)

I’ve also been able to focus on training for the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon coming up in November! I participated in a 5K last January, and decided to go for the half! I come home on October 26th and am running in Disney on November 9th, then leave for my first Disney Cruise on November 30th. Come home to wintery Wisconsin and leave for tropical Florida, that’s the way to go!

There are somewhat surprising Disney encounters though too. For instance, the sunshine tempted me to peruse the sidewalks and make a grocery trip. While walking past the bread section, I found these little numbers…

Cars cake

Cars cake

Mickey cake

Mickey cake

Spider-Man cake

Spider-Man cake

They weren’t refrigerated and the Cars cake has such a well-developed car shape, I’m not sure how it was made or what it was made from. My godson loves Cars though, so I might just have to attempt it for him at some point after I’m home. Cake decorating is a lot of fun, for those of you who have never tried. It’s a great excuse to play with frosting and make a mess in the kitchen! (Though I suggest making a mess in someone else’s kitchen if that’s your goal.)

It slightly reminded me of the Carl Fredricksen and Squirt cakes I made to enter in the Sheboygan County Fair a few years ago…

Carl Fredricksen from Up

My cake version of Carl Fredricksen from Up

Squirt from Finding Nemo

My cake representation of Squirt from Finding Nemo

So the lesson of the day is: Never fear! When traveling or studying abroad there are are ways to get Disney in your diet… both figuratively and literally. It might just take a few podcast subscriptions and a bit of creativity!

Australian Oddities (From the Perspective of an American): Part 2

Since it’s coming to the end of my Australian adventures, I figured it was time for the second (and final) post about how Aussie life is different from America. Lets jump right to it, shall we?

6. Holidays

There’s something strange about seeing Christmas trees and swimming suits appear in the department stores at the same time. I walked into K-Mart the other day, and holiday greenery’s were being set up straight across from an entire bikini land.

From what I’ve seen and been told, Halloween goes largely uncelebrated here, and Thanksgiving (obviously) is non-existant… so all of the usual reds, oranges, and yellows of fall never made their appearance. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the leaves will still be on the trees, and I’ll be able to get my dose of fall colors when I get home! It’s October, probably my favorite month of the year, but it’s missing that October feel! (That and there’s no Edy’s Slow Churned Pumpkin Ice Cream… or anything pumpkin flavored for that mater… Oh, the humanity!)

They also obviously have their own national holidays, such as Australia Day, ANZAC Day, and Sorry Day.

7. Calendar Dates

Don’t get me wrong, they still have the same calendar and it still works the same way, but it’s as if someone jumbled up the dates and pasted them where they saw fit. The first Sunday in October, the clocks are turned ahead an hour, and the first Sunday in April they’re put back an hour. Daylight savings time is not the same as it is in the US, and makes figuring out the time change to talk to family and friends a jumble sometimes. The world clock on your phone will become your best friend! To complicate things further, Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia do not observe daylight savings time.

Father’s Day is also on a completely different date. Fathers are celebrated on September 7th, while mothers get a relaxing day on May 11th (the same as in the United States).

8. Addressing Professors

In the USA, unless you’re very familiar with your professors, have a close relationship with them, and/or they have explicitly told you to refer to them by their first name, you generally address them as Professor or Dr. So-and-So. Here, you call your professor by their first name. It’s a very casual and open relationship. Oddly, I find it can make them somewhat more approachable. In a sense, there’s no formality to worry about. Walt Disney might of been on to something when he decided Cast Members should all display their first names on their name tag.

9. Terminology (Round 2)

And yes, more Aussie slang… I’m going to miss the confusion of the English language… Who’s to say one is right and the other wrong? I must admit, I’m still entertained by listening to some people talk…

Catch ya…= See ya’ later/Goodbye

Fair dinkum= true/fair/genuine

Fair enough= Oh, okay/I get it/That makes sense

Sunnies= Sunglasses

Stubbie holder= beer koozie

Macca’s= McDonald’s

Capsicum= red or green pepper

Bench= countertop/desktop/kitchen counter

Lollies= suckers or candy

Brekkie= breakfast

Practical or Prac= labs

Trolly= shopping cart

Nappie= diaper

Half past= 30 minutes past the hour

Bathers= swimming suit

Mum= Mom

I’m going to miss all the fun linguistic word play!

10. Time Zones

Yes, we have time zones back in the US. The time of day changes by the hour as you drive east to west and vise versa, but in some places in Australia, you have a 30 minute time difference. When I went to the Outback and drove up to Darwin, I had to set my watch a half hour ahead of Melbourne time. I always thought time zones changed by the hour, but Australia proved me wrong.

I learned a lot about the culture and the beauty of the land (and sea). I’m sure there are things I missed and/or forgot to cover, but those are the “major” things. All in all, the differences between Australia and the United States are rather miniscule. It has been a lot of fun though to compare and contrast. So very different but so very much the same!

Crikey!

Steve Irwin and conservation are synonymous terms in the scientific world. Famed for his wildlife documentary, “The Crocodile Hunter,” Steve dedicated his life to protecting animals and educating the public. On last weekend I headed to the Beerwah near the Sunshine Coast, where I visited the Australia Zoo, home of this crocodile hunter.

Growing up, I remember being fascinated by Steve as he captured crocodiles, wrangled snakes, and shared the natural world. Though we didn’t get “fancy channels” at home, Animal Planet was always my favorite when visiting relatives who indulged in such luxuries.

The extent of my knowledge about Steve and Terri Irwin was restricted to what little I gleaned about them from these nostalgic memories, so in order to learn more about them and what they do, I purchased a few books on my iBooks app (LOVE that thing… it’s like a Kindle on your iPod/iPhone… so handy for travel). The first one I read was “Steve and Me” by Terri Irwin. The book was published in 2007, a little over a year after Steve tragically passed away. In it, Terri talks about her history with Steve and a little bit about his background growing up. You learn about how these two conservation-focused souls from different sides of the globe met, fell in love, married, and dedicated their lives to the Australia Zoo.

I also read “The Crocodile Hunter: The Incredible Life and Adventures of Steve and Terri Irwin,” which Steve and Terri wrote together and published in 2001. The book consists of several chapters written by Steve and several chapters written by Terri. Together, they detail the history of The Australia Zoo, their conservation work, and the plight of animals in the wild.

I found both books extremely interesting, (I read “Steve and Me” in a single night spent at an airport.) and I highly recommend them to any one enchanted with nature, wildlife, or the environment.

After my background reading, I was really excited to head off to the Sunshine Coast! I left early on Thursday morning and arrived at the airport around 2pm. After finding my hostile shuttle, I found my room at Mooloolaba Backpackers, and headed out for a walk along the beach.

sand!

sand!

As I walked along the beach, there were several signs warning that the waves were a bit rough for swimming.

Lifeguard Swimming Report

Lifeguard Swimming Report

There were some rocky areas that had been worn down by the constant pounding of the waves, which I always find rather fascinating. You never know what sorts of critters you’ll find.

Sunshine Coast... coast

Sunshine Coast… coast

…like jellyfish!

jellyfish!

jellyfish!

I knew not to touch them (because they can still sting even after they’re dead), but it’s rather tempting with how odd they look.

It was soooo nice to be able to put on some shorts and get out in the sunshine though! I was a happy girl!

sunshine!

sunshine!

The next day I caught the public bus to the zoo. Apparently The Australia Zoo shuttle was all booked for Friday, so public transportation was my only option. I wanted to go to the zoo two days though, so I made sure to book a place for Saturday! (Note for students traveling abroad in Australia: If you take public transportation, tell them you’re a student. It doesn’t matter if you’re able to get concession or not, students get discounts! I only found that out on the way back from the zoo!)

The Australia Zoo shuttle bus

The Australia Zoo shuttle bus

the material covering the seats... so going to be the upholstering my next vehicle

the material covering the seats… so going to be the upholstering my next vehicle

After about 15-20 minutes, we found ourselves on Steve Irwin Way. Originally called Glass House Mountains Road, this street was renamed after Steve passed away in 2006 to honor his legacy.

As we pulled into the zoo, the driver pointed out the original parking lot for the zoo that opened in 1970. Bob and Lyn Irwin, Steve’s parents, founded the zoo under the name “Beerwah Reptile Park.” Bob was a plumber and Lyn was a nurse, but together they fostered a love for wildlife, rehabilitating injured animals and sharing their passion for conservation with their three children. The original parking lot looked as if it could hold 20 cars when it was filled, but today the zoo has expanded and grown to 100 acres and is still growing. The zoo was passed on to Steve when his parents decided to retire, around the time Steve and Terri met and decided to marry.

I made it!

I made it!

I purchased my 2-day student ticket (hooray for student discounts!) and headed into the zoo. I was first greeted by this little fella… a familiar face that I saw frequently working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a rhinoceros iguana.

rhinoceros iguana

rhinoceros iguana

As you enter the zoo, you see a statue of Steve and Terri with their two children (Bindi and Robert), or should I say three counting Sui (his dog and beloved crocodile hunting companion).

statue of Steve, Terri, Bindi, Robert, and Sui

statue of Steve, Terri, Bindi, Robert, and Sui

As a side story, when Steve and Terri first met, (before they started dating) he offered to introduce her to his girlfriend. Terri was crushed, thinking that Steve was already dating a different woman, but when she came out it was Sui, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Needless to say, Terri was relieved. For more information on Sui, check out the link: Sui, A Man’s Best Friend.

My first mission was to find some crocodiles! I loved that each enclosure had a few signs telling the names and history of the crocs.

The largest and most impressive saltwater crocodile was definitely Acco!

Acco and Connie

Acco and Connie

Acco first came to light in the 1960’s in Northern Queensland. He was reported to have sunk boats, torn up fishing nets, driving fishermen from the river, attacking and killing scrubber bulls (feral cattle), etc. rumored to be 30 feet long (when in actuality he’s about 16 feet long), the people wanted him out! One of the main reasons Steve captured crocodiles was to help protect them from would-be shooters. Large crocodiles tend to strike fear in people, and shotguns are often looked to as a solution rather than taking the time to understand these magnificent ancient creatures. Despite the attempts of National Parks and Wildlife to remove Acco, he evaded capture. In 1988, Steve and his dad became caretakers of the river system, and asked to relocate rogue or problem crocs (Even though the crocs weren’t the problem. The problem was humans moving into the territory didn’t like the crocs that had lived there for hundreds of years). This included Acco. After several incidents (read “The Crocodile Hunter” for more info) and 18 months, Steve finally got him!

Connie is his smaller girlfriend sitting next to him. Apparently she’s the only girl that’s been able to keep him happy.

Another famed crocodile here is Agro (short for Mr. Aggressive).

Agro

Agro

Agro was captured in the late 1980’s, when he was reported surfacing near people in boats. He was becoming used to human interaction, and they were worried that he would become too bold for his own good, and someone would wind up hurt. He’s a rather aggressive crocodile (hence the name). The largest male crocodile in the area usually rules the territory, but Agro wasn’t afraid to challenge larger males. There’s nothing timid about him. Despite the territorial nature, it’s how crocodiles are supposed to be, and part of their role in nature. They weed out the sick and injured animals, controlling their own populations with dominance and social structures. Killing them completely alters that environment. As Steve put it,

“It is we humans who have introduced conflict and a breakdown of their social structure. The encroachment of civilization has been a detriment to our entire northern ecosystem’s stability and health… The problem we face–and the one that our children’s children will face–is the lack of harmonious coexistence between humans and large predators. Whether it’s a great white shark, a Bengal tiger, a grizzly bear, or a saltwater croc, if someone gets attacked it’s the animal that suffers.”

I couldn’t agree more. All too often we, as humans, fall back upon the idea that we are the dominant species, and should therefore be able to interfere with and take over any habitat. In most incidences, attacks are due to simple human stupidity and error. The animals are just following their natural instincts. If we build houses and crocs come walking in, they’re moved out of their homes, places they have lived for hundreds of years. We forget about the fact that the land we live in is home to many other organisms too. Oftentimes, the reason animals end up becoming a threat is because people feed them. They fear humans until they learn that they can actually be a food source, and the fear disappears.

This was evidenced when I was walking around the zoo eating a bagel. I ended up being chased down by one of these guys:

brush turkey

brush turkey

It’s a brush turkey, and I’m willing to bet he was used to people throwing him food! I don’t have ornithophobia (fear of birds), but when a turkey comes running at you with his little clawed feet, it’s not the highlight of your day!

Anyways, back to Agro! Because of his boldness, the area was becoming dangerous for him, so Steve worked on relocating him. Steve even found the body of a 9.5 foot crocodile Agro killed! There’s much more to this story (seriously, read the book!), but eventually Steve managed to capture Agro in one of his traps. Earlier in the week, he had gotten bitten by a slightly smaller croc, so alone, injured, and in the middle of the wilderness, Steve faced the challenge of getting Agro into his boat.

Once he was able to lug Agro’s tail into the boat, Agro made an attempt to lunge at Steve. When he did, he ended up launching himself into the boat. On the verge of sinking, Steve secured the croc and headed for shore. The only problem was that Agro decided to headbutt the boat, splitting it and causing water to seep in. In order to make it back to camp, Steve had to beach the boat on the shore every now and then in order to bail out water. Once on shore, the complications didn’t end.

Steve managed to get Agro out of the boat and into a box, but Agro was so aggressive that he just smashed through the other end. Steve quickly placed a bigger box in front of him, and then managed to contain him. Even in the safer environment of the zoo, Agro has maintained his aggressive nature. In his book, Steve reported, “He’s killed two lawnmowers, a brush hook, a shovel, my shoe, and my hat in his quest to remove me from his territory.” Truly one of natures best predators!

Another crocodile was named Scrapper.

Scrapper

Scrapper

He also made a go at Steve, and they have his attacked boots on display to prove it.

Steve's boots and photos of Wes's injuries

Steve’s boots and photos of Wes’s injuries

On the top shelf in the display were photos of Wes, Steve’s best mate who was attacked by a croc, Graham. There was a massive rainstorm and the croc exhibits were flooded. The fences themselves were built strong enough to hold, but debris had built up along the fence-line and threatened to break them. Steve and Wes were working to clear brush as their fellow zoo keepers attempted to distract the croc. With everything that was going on, Graham went for Wes. Graham’s female, Bindi, was nesting at the time, so he was in an elevated aggressive state, and suddenly Wes was slammed into the fence, going right over the top of Steve. Wes managed to roll away, but a bite at 3,000 lbs, per square inch tore at quite a bit of tissue in Wes’s bum, leg, and hand. Steve grabbed a pick handle to defend Wes, who was in the water (a place you definitely don’t want to be with a croc!). As Graham went in for another bite, Steve grabbed his back legs, not knowing if Graham had released Wes or not. Steve was able to get Graham to focus on him, and jammed the pick handle into his mouth as he attacked. Wes got on top of the fence, saw what was happening, and despite missing chunks of flesh from his leg, was ready to jump back in and help Steve. Steve assured him he was okay and had it under control, and told him to get out! They both got to safety and made a trip to the hospital! Talk about an unfavorable friendship/bonding moment!

Nearby, there were more cases with skulls and other artifacts, as well as a wall covered in photos from Steve’s life.

photo wall

photo wall

At noon, it was time to head to the Crocoseum for the main show! It began by introducing us to several birds (including one that flew in from its habitat in the wetlands area) and snakes. I think the most entertaining part of the program was when the lorikeets flew around the audience to the tune of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC. For some reason I never imagined AC/DC and nature would have anything in common…

Afterwards, it was time for the crocs! What’s the best way to call a crocodile? Why, jump in the water of course!

calling Digger

calling Digger

Just make sure you get out of the water in time! Digger was the crocodile I saw there on the first day, and the second day was Mossman.

Mossman

Digger

He was hungry.

Mossman

Mossman

So was Mossman.

At 2:30pm they had another croc show. I saw Bluey and Casper. The keepers showed us how far they could leap out of the water, and explained that your best bet with crocs is to keep about 5 meters from the shore. Even hanging over the water you can get nabbed.

Bluey leaps out of the water

Bluey leaps out of the water

On the second day I was there, I had the opportunity to feed one of the elephants!

elephants

elephants

I gave Sabu a piece of zucchini. My hand was all sandy from the trunk, haha!

This is what your hand looks like after you feed an elephant!

This is what your hand looks like after you feed an elephant!

At one point I walked around the kola enclosure and found a mom and baby! They were adorable!

mom and baby

mom and baby

There were also two young ones playing in the tree.

young koalas

young koalas

As I wandered around, quite a few of these lizards decorated the pavement. Sometimes they were so still, you didn’t realize that they were there until they took off running (which got your heart pumping a bit!). These two got in a little spat. Apparently they didn’t appreciate each others company

lizards

lizards

I wandered around and saw quite a few animals between the two days I was there, but I shared the main highlights. One of the other interesting things I saw was the Wildlife Hospital.

Animal Hospital statue

Wildlife Hospital statue

It was built in March of 2004 as a token to Steve’s mom, Lyn, who dedicated her life to helping injured and sick wildlife. In 2008, they opened a new facility, which Steve sadly never got to see completed.

Lyn

Lyn

It’s an extra $2 for a ticket to enter, but all of that money goes towards supporting the Wildlife Hospital.

While I was there, a koala came in for an operation. It was hit by a car and had an injured leg (I’m pretty sure it was broken.). As I walked in, they were finishing the procedure and waking her up.

koala operation

koala operation

She had a baby with her who was quite the escape artist.

baby koala

baby koala

escape artist skills

escape artist skills

After the koala was semi-awake, the doctor brought her over for us to see before putting her in her chambers for the night.

semi-awake koala

semi-awake koala

This was where they housed their patients:

Look at all those scrumptious eucalyptus leaves!

Look at all those scrumptious eucalyptus leaves!

As I was leaving to catch the bus, another koala was coming in who had also had a run-in with a car. Poor little guys.

Around the visitor area in the Wildlife Hospital, they had various pieces of artwork. They all had the common theme of wildlife protection. I thought this piece was rather interesting:

wildlife artwork

wildlife artwork

There was a sign nearby that read, “Sea eagle nests are typically two meters in diameter and occasionally as high as 2 meters. Jane [James] made this sculpture out of marine debris to illustrate the volume of rubbish which flows into our oceans, often impacting and injuring our beautiful native wildlife.
Sadly, it was then time to go hop on the bus to head back to the hostile. As we settled in, they brought out a visitor for us to say one last goodbye.
Adios!

Adios!

Then we pulled out and drove back to Mooloolaba…

Crikey!

Crikey!

Thank you for visiting!

Thank you for visiting!

I really enjoyed this trip! It was great to finally see the Home of The Crocodile Hunter! It’s so strange that my top 5 must-do’s have now been completed! I’d have loved to get over to the Perth area on the west coast and New Zealand, but those are trips for another time! I’ve had a fantastic journey and been blessed to see some amazing, wonderful things! What an experience!

The next time I hop on that train, bus to the airport, and jump on an airplane, I’ll be homeward bound! It’s been awesome, but I can’t wait to get back and see all my friends and family!

It’s come around to the time when internship and job applications have started flying out from my hotmail account! I can’t believe college life is almost behind me!

Now it’s time to start the countdown for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon and then a 7-Day Wester Caribbean Disney Cruise! I will settle down and find a job… someday… someday soon! Just a little graduation celebration first… I think I’ve become addicted to travel!

Stories from the Outback: Part 2

At 11:00am, 3 other travelers from my previous tour and I met up with 4 additional individuals for our overnight road trip up to Darwin. Since it was an overnight trip, we had two tour guides, Sheldon and Jerry. Though there were only 8 of us, we had a 48 person bus to ourselves!

tour bus

tour bus

Apparently, the drive up to Darwin through the outback can get quite dangerous. Cows on the road at night + a dinky vehicle = major injuries. Our tour guides told us they refused to drive in a little tour van, simply for the hazard it caused. The bus was equipped with a bull bar for such situations. Also, the road trains don’t really like to slow down.

road train

road train

A road train is basically a semi, but with 4-5 cars attached to the back. They’re quite large, and passing them on the road isn’t anything to be taken lightly.

Once everyone was loaded up, we headed out to our first stop, the Tropic of Capricorn. It’s the imaginary line halfway between the equator and the south pole.

Tropic of Capricorn

Tropic of Capricorn

I know, hold in your excitement folks, this is as good as it gets! Haha! Needless to stay, it was pretty much a quick stop for a photo opportunity, and on we went!

As we drove, we stopped every few hours to stretch our legs. When you’re out in the outback, those stops tend to be quite interesting. A bar is never just a bar out here, as we quickly found out.

Aileron was our first lesson at this…

Aileron

Aileron

Aileron lizards

Aileron lizards

Why the lizard in a bikini? I’m not sure… and I’m pretty sure I’ll never know, but there it was.

They also had an eagle that had been quite badly injured. He has since been rehabilitated (and named Bozzo) but has decided simply not to leave. Apparently, dinner here is just to convenient.

Bozzo the eagle

Bozzo the eagle

Tinned meat comes in all shapes and forms too.

tinned meats

tinned meats

Spam, tinned hotdogs, baked beans, and corn flakes. What more could a girl ask for? Eh hem… As far as finding fresh produce… I’m glad I packed my own!

Our next stop was Barrow Creek and the telegraph station. We were told it’s one of the only 3 remaining in any condition to visit.

Barrow Creek Telegraph Station

Barrow Creek Telegraph Station

It was rather spooky and abandoned looking if you ask me. Not the sort of place you’d like to find yourself wandering alone in late at night…

These telegraph stations used to be of great importance out here though. It was the only means of communication for miles in either direction. If you worked here, you were pretty secluded from the rest of the world.

one of the telegraph station buildings

one of the telegraph station buildings

There was also a little graveyard that I found slightly interesting. There wasn’t much information about it. It simply said that the individuals buried there had been killed by natives.

burial site

burial site

We also walked into the local bar to check things out.

bar in Barrow Creek

bar in Barrow Creek

If you look on the walls, you’ll see money stapled to them with names on them. Apparently, back in the day, when people would make the long journey through the outback, they never knew if they’d have money when they came passing though again. In order to ensure they would be able to afford a drink, they would write their name on a bill and staple it to the wall. That way, they knew they’d have cash. The tradition still continues at this bar.

I found a random photo of Mickey Mouse too!

Mickey in the outback

Mickey in the outback

One thing that I found rather discomforting about this stop was the water. I hadn’t seen anywhere to fill up a water bottle for a while, and I knew I probably should be drinking more water, so I tried the water from the tap. It was clear, so I tried it, and it had an unusual flavor, so I spit it out immediately. Afterwards, I asked one of our tour guides if there was a spot I could fill up on water, and she said there was a cooler under the bus and she’d get it out for me. The bartender thought it was a good time to chip in and said, “Ya! Ya can’t drink the water out here! It’s full of uranium!” What!?

When we got back to the bus I asked our tour guides if he was telling the truth and they both came to the conclusion that he was joking… but they weren’t 100% sure. So all in all, I’m glad I spit it out and always filled up my water from the bus from then on…

Our next stop was Wycliffe Well, and I have to say this was probably the most unusual and unique stop on our tour.

Wycliffe Well

Wycliffe Well

Wycliffe Well

Wycliffe Well

Known as the “Alien Capitol of the World” this place claims hundreds of UFO sightings since WWII, guaranteeing a siting every couple of days.

Wycliffe Well

Wycliffe Well

inside the Wycliffe Well restaurant

inside the Wycliffe Well restaurant

quite the unique bathroom door

quite the unique bathroom door

I’m happy to report that none of us were abducted on this occasion.

Our final sight-seeing stop of the day was Devils Marbles.

This location is known for the granite marble-like stones that were exposed as the sandstone wore away.

Devils Marbles

Devils Marbles

This place was avoided by animal herders for years, due to its dark reputation (at least amongst sheep, horses, and goats). Herders were dismayed when they lead their animals through the area and literally thousands of them died.

Eventually they learned that the animals had eaten a poisonous plant that grows here. Devils Marbles indeed.

Devils Marbles

Devils Marbles

termite mound... they were everywhere! some were wider and taller than me!

termite mound… they were everywhere! some were wider and taller than me!

Devils Marbles

Devils Marbles

Run!

Run!

That was the end of our sight-seeing stops for the day, and it was time to buckle down for the night as we continued our drive.

At about 6:00am the next morning, we reached Katherine Gorge for a sunrise hike. You could definitely feel the weather changing as heat and humidity started to set in.

Our hike was brief, but all uphill and beautiful.

Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge

We also learned the difference between a canyon and a gorge. Canyons tend to be in areas composed of sandstone or limestone… something that wears away easily. Gorges are similar, but usually have a river running through them that has caused the erosion and essentially their creation. By this definition, the Grand Canyon should technically be the Grand Gorge… but the terms are often used interchangeably.

As we sat down to breakfast, I was super excited to find a bower bird nest! These guys are such interesting creatures. Here’s David Attenborough to tell you a bit more about them…

Apparently bower birds in this area preferred the color white. I was told bower birds in other parts of Australia are rather partial to the color blue.

bower bird nest

bower bird nest

If you look closely, you’ll see that the white things he collected are actually largely litter items. I saw straws, soda can tabs, and other plastic bits. Talk about anthropomorphic influence!

Later on I actually saw the bower bird swoop down to his nest, and I did get a photo, but he blends into the background and it’s not very clear.

Our next stop was Leliyn to see Edith Falls, which was a small waterfall where we could swim. I didn’t think there’d be a swimming opportunity, so I didn’t bring my suit and took the opportunity to photograph some of the wildlife instead. There was a kind warning of crocodiles for the swimmers though!

beware of crocodiles!

beware of crocodiles!

Leliyn Falls

Edith Falls

red dragonfly

red dragonfly

I think the dragonfly might have been a scarlet percher (Diplacodes haematodes). The males are red, while the females are pale yellow in color with brown markings.

lizard

lizard

I’m still not quite sure what type of lizard this was, so if anyone recognizes it, please tell me!

Our final stop before Darwin was Adelaide River. The Adelaide River Inn, a local pub, is home to a famed movie star… or what remains of him anyway.

Charlie the buffalo from the movie “Crocodile Dundee” was stuffed upon his death and is now a permanent fixture in the bar. He even has his own little corner of merchandise in his honor.

buffalo from Crocodile Dundee

“Charlie”  from Crocodile Dundee

According to the cards they sell, he was born in the Northern Territory in 1970 and passed away on April 24, 2000. His real name was Nick, though he adopted the name of Charlie for the big screen. He has a horn width of 2.25 m, and while he was alive he weighed 1000 kg. For more about Charlie, check out this news article: Crocodile Dundee buffalo to be stuffed

Never thought you’d learn so much about a single buffalo when reading about a trip to the outback, huh?

They also had a creative little toilet seat cover for sale that I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of…

crocodile toilet seat cover

crocodile toilet seat cover

It slightly reminded me of the painting I did in my bathroom at home…

one of my bathroom paintings

one of my bathroom paintings

And soon we were off for our last stretch of road. By this point, I was incredibly ready for a shower and proper bed!

We did a little drive through Darwin to give us a feel for the area and were dropped off at our respective locations. I had a 2am flight, and one of the girls that I got to know a bit in our tour group also had an early 1:45am flight, so we booked an airport shuttle together at their tourist/information building.

We wandered around the city for a bit (looking like obvious tourists with all of our luggage) and then chatted and read for a while before heading out to the airport.

Darwin

Darwin

I flew back to Melbourne, literally watched the morning train pull out of the station because I didn’t land in time to catch it (bummer!), waited until 2pm to catch the train home (which didn’t stop at Sherwood Station outside of Deakin campus and instead went straight into Warrnambool), and walked a little over an hour to get back to campus. It was an awesome day for transportation I guess!

When I got back to campus, I’ve never been so grateful for a shower, toothbrush, a bit of food, and a nice long nap (all the way into the next morning). I almost never fall asleep early, but this day was quite the exception. (I do have to say though, when I got back from Costa Rica, I was pretty grateful for hot water and a normal shower and to get rid of the sand… It might be a competitor in that department.)

All in all, it was an awesome trip and I would highly recommend it to anyone heading out into the outback for the first time. Our tour guides throughout the trip, Mel, Jerry, and Sheldon, were simply amazing. They had to have been exhausted with all of the driving and activities they did, but they were always cherry and enthusiastic with smiles on their faces! They knew so much about the local landscape, animals, etc. Questions never went unanswered! If you book a trip through Adventure Tours, I’d recommend them!

As a solo traveler, I’ve found I really enjoy traveling with a tour group. You meet lots of interesting people from around the world with so many different backgrounds. You never truly feel like a solo traveler. Besides seeing the sites and stretching your legs, you get to know some great people! I think I’m becoming addicted to traveling…

My next trip now is a weekend jaunt up to The Australia Zoo (also known as Steve Irwin’s zoo). While on the outback trip, I read two books, “The Crocodile Hunter,” written by Steve and Terri Irwin, and “Steve and Me,” by Terri Irwin. It really gave me an appreciation and understanding for what they do and why they do it. Stay tuned for more on that soon! I can’t believe I leave for that trip on Thursday already!

Stories from the Outback: Part 1

I have been to Tasmania, Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef. With my flight home coming up in October, it was time to check another locality off my checklist of must-do’s! The Outback!

This was my first completely solo trip. When I went on my Sea Turtle Volunteer Trip to Costa Rica, I did travel alone, but my dad was there to help out with a bit of the planning. I planned, booked, and went on this trip my myself, though I never felt alone. I met some great people and saw some amazing sights along the way.

My trip started off with a 9am flight to Alice Springs. The problem with this flight, was that the train from Warrnambool (where I go to school) to Melbourne (the nearest airport) didn’t arrive in Melbourne until 9:50am. This meant that I had to catch the train into Melbourne the day before, arriving around 9:45pm and spending the night at Melbourne Airport. Ahh, the comfort of sleeping in random locations… I ended up finding a cushioned bench near Krispy Kreme and camping out there for the night with my iBooks app (super handy!). Given the nature of airports and the voiceover reminding me every 15 minutes not to leave my luggage unattended or with a stranger, I never fell asleep, but I did find a hidden Mickey in the ceiling! (There’s always an upside! Haha!)

Hidden Mickey? You be the judge!

Hidden Mickey? You be the judge!

I checked in to my flight around 5am, boarded a bit before 9am, and arrived in Alice Springs around 2pm.

My first view of the outback from the airplane

my first view of the outback from the airplane

I stayed at Haven Backpackers, which is the hostile pick-up location for the tour group I would be joining the next day. It was a decent hostile and close to the grocery stores and shops. I walked around for a few hours and journeyed up to ANZAC Hill.

ANZAC Hill

ANZAC Hill

ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. This location is dedicated to them and gives you a birds-eye view of Alice Springs.

The next morning, I was supposed to meet up with my tour guide at 6:10am. They were a bit late, but it was all good! I was on a 5-day Alice Springs to Darwin with Adventure Tours. My tour was basically split into two parts. The first part of the tour was a 3-day tour around the Alice Springs area, and the second part was an overnight drive up to Darwin. For the first part, I was in a tour group of 24 people.

our tour bus

our tour bus

Our first stop of the day was a camel farm, where we had the chance to ride a camel. It was a bit gimmicky, but I wanted to ride a camel in the outback and this was the only chance I was going to get! After choosing between the two camels, I was informed that his name was Sparky. (I chose him because I was told the other one likes to bite.)

me and Sparky

me and Sparky

You sit in the saddle and lean back while pushing your legs forward. If you don’t, you’re more than likely to fall off. They get up by standing on their back legs first and then their front, so its kinda like a Tilt-a-Whirl as you rise up into the air.

success

riding Sparky

They have the camel walk with you down one side of the enclosure, and then on the way back, they have the camel run. I think the guy said that when camels walk it’s about 5 km/hour and when they run its about 12 km/hour. He told me to let him know if I needed to slow down, which wasn’t going to happen! It’s not comfortable when they run though! You really fly up into the air! It’s basically hang on for dear life or fall off the back-end! Despite my klutzy nature, I managed to hang on!

They also had a pet dingo at the camel farm. I’m not sure why he was their pet, but throughout the trip I only saw one wild dingo (briefly before we left our second camp site), so this was the only picture I have.

dingo

dingo

Our next stop was to collect firewood for our campfire later in the evening. I thought it was slightly odd, but we basically pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of the bush and were told to go out and collect sticks… so we did.

Our campsite was pretty decent. It was amazing how cold it got at night though! It was above 80˚ during the day, but at night it would get down to about 40˚. Thank goodness the sleeping bags we could purchase from the tour group were super warm!

our first campsite

our first campsite

the grill and exterior of the kitchen

the grill and exterior of the kitchen

the kitchen interior

the kitchen interior

my tent

my tent

the tent interior... not gonna lie, I did look under the beds for snakes before I marched in, and I was partially disappointed I didn't find any

the tent interior… not gonna lie, I did look under the beds for snakes before I marched in, and I was partially disappointed I didn’t find any

After unloading our stuff at our campsite and lunch, we headed out to Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas. We also saw sunset at Uluru, or Ayers Rock.

Kata Tjuta or the Olgas

Kata Tjuta or the Olgas

Geologists explain that these rock formations were originally formed by the Peterman Ranges (which are to the west of this area). It is said that the Peterman Ranges were worn down and eroded by water, causing sand to fan out in one area and stones to fan out in another, which built up over time. These areas were eventually covered by sea, and the seabed compressed the sand and stones, forming it into rock. The sandy fan became sandstone and the stony fan became conglomerate rock. Eventually, the sea dried up and movement of the tectonic plates caused these formations to fold and tilt. The stoney fan tilted slightly and became Kata Tjuta, while the sandstone tilted 90 degrees and became Uluru. This is why, when you look at the formations, you see lines running in different directions through the stone (horizontally on Kata Tjuta and vertically on Uluru).  It’s rather interesting.

Kata Tjuta (notice the horizontal lines)

Kata Tjuta (notice the horizontal lines)

Kata Tjuta (you can see in this boulder that fell off that it's made up of a bunch of stones all compressed together into conglomerate rock)

Kata Tjuta
(you can see in this bolder that fell off that it’s made up of a bunch of stones all compressed together into conglomerate rock)

After walking around Kata Tjuta we drove a bit to get to Uluru at sunset. It was really neat to see the rock change colors as the sun disappeared below the horizon. At one point, Uluru seemed to emit a glow.

Uluru (notice the vertical lines)

Uluru (notice the vertical lines)

Uluru

Uluru

Uluru (glowing!)

Uluru (glowing!)

Uluru

Uluru

After sunset, we headed back to camp to prepare dinner and had a campfire. The next morning we were up before dawn (5:15am) in order to get out to Uluru for the sunrise.

Uluru at sunrise

Uluru at sunrise

As the sun was still coming up, we started a walk around the base of Uluru. It took about 3 hours to walk around the entire thing. It was quite amazing. From a distance it looks so smooth, but there were quite a few pits, caves, and markings. Later, we found out that all of these “blemishes” have a meaning to the Aborigiony people. They all have an explanation in their stories and culture. Many of these stories center around their version of creation, called Tjukurpa, and involve Kuniya (Woma python), Liru (poisonous snake), Mala (rufous hare-wallaby) and Lungkata (Centralian blue-tongue lizard). In many of the cave paintings you can find these sacred animals. As you go on your Base Walk there are signs explaining some of these stories. I’ll rewrite a few here for you, simply so you can gain insight into the culture and to help preserve my own memory.

Kuniya and Liru:

“When you walk around Mutitjulu Waterhole you are surrounded by the presence of the ancestral beings – Kuniya the woma python woman and Liru the poisonous snake man.

Minyma Kuniya the woma python woman came from the east near Erldunda. A bad feeling grew in her stomach–something was wrong. She had to go to Uluru.

Kuniya created inma (ceremony) to connect her eggs together. She carried them to Uluru in a ring around her neck and placed them at Kuniya Piti.

Manwhile, Kuniya’s nephew arrived on the other side of Uluru. He was being chased by a war party of Liru (poisonous snake) men form out near Kata Tjuta.

He had broken the law in their land and they were sent to punish him.

The Liru men threw spears at Kuniya’s nephew. One pierced his thigh and many others hit the side of Uluru.

One Liru warrior, Wati Liru, was left to care for the injured python man. But he did not do his duty and left the injured man on his own.

Minyma Kuniya realised that her nephew had been injured and was not being cared for properly.

She raced to Mutitjulu Waterhole and saw Wati Liru high up on the cliff. She called out to him about her nephew, but he only laughed.

Minyma Kuniya placed her wana (digging stick) upright in the ground in front of her. Kneeling down, she picked up handfuls of sand and threw it over her body, singing and making herself stronger.

She was creating inma (ceremony) to help her confront Wati Liru.

Kuniya moved towards Liru singing and dancing akuta–a dance step used by women ready to fight.

Kuniya hit him once over the head with her wana. He fell down but got back up. She hit him a second time and killed him.

Kuniya then went and found her injured nephew. She picked him up, dusted him off and carried him to Mutitjulu Waterhole.

She created inma and combined their two spirits into one. They became Wanampi, the rainbow serpent, who lives in and protects the waterhole today.

This story teaches a traditional form of payback punishment–a spear to the thigh. the punisher must then look after the injured person until they are well enough to care for themselves.

It also teaches about women’s intuition and that a woman may use force to protect her children.

This is a powerful story, Kuniya is a powerful woman.”

Waterhole

Mutitjulu Waterhole

After reading the story, it gave the area a much more sacred, historical feel to it. This is the waterhole that is said to be home of Wanampi, the water snake (Minyma Kuniya and her nephew’s combined spirit). It is said that Wanampi lives there still today and has the power to control the source of the water. It is also the most reliable source of water around Uluru. The Anangu (the Aboriginal people) would sing “Kuka kuka” in the hopes that Wanampi would release the kapi (water) and fill the waterhole.

where

where Kuniya drops to her knees

According to one of the signs, this marking is where “Kuniya changes into human form and creates inma (ceremony) to make irati (poison) to punish Wati Liru (poisonous snake man) for not looking after her injured nephew as he is culturally required to do. You can see the imprints of where she drops to her knees, plants her kuturu (fighting club) in the ground and scoops up sand to throw over her body, protecting herself from poison.

IMG_3071

a sign explaining the significance of each marking in this section of Uluru and how it ties in with the story (click the photo for a larger image–you’ll be able to read it)

It was rather fascinating, walking around this area. There was also a small cave with Aboriginal paintings, Mutitjulu cave.

cave and paintings

cave and paintings

A sign explained,

“This is the family cave. For many generations, Anangu [Aboriginal] families camped here. The men would hunt for kuka (meat) and the women and children would collect mai (bush foods). The food would be brought back here to share.”

There were paintings all over the inside of the cave. The sign read,

“The colors come from a variety of materials, Tatu (red ochre) and untanu (yellow ochre) are iron-stained clays that were very valuable and traded across the land. Burn kurkara (dessert oak) provides purku (black charcoal), and tjunpa/unu (white ash). The dry materials are placed on a flat stone, crushed and mixed with kapi (water).”

If you look closely, you’ll be able to see a snake painted. If I remember correctly, it’s the yellow outline towards the lower right. They’re a bit difficult to see, since they overlap each other, but many of the painted images were used to illustrate the cultural stories around the campfire.

cave paintings

cave paintings

Here’s one of the guides available online to several of the symbol meanings.

The had several guides for sale at the Cultural Center, but you were banned from taking pictures here and I chose not to purchase one. There were several areas throughout our Base Walk in which we were banned from taking photos. These areas were considered especially sacred by the Aboriginal people and they did not want them displayed elsewhere. It was rather interesting.

There was also another cave nearby.

cave

cave

According to the sign,

“Nyiinka (bush boys) camped in this kulpi (cave). A nyiinka is a boy at the important stage in life where he is ready to learn to become a wati (man). Nyiinka are taught by their grandfathers and separated from the rest of their families for this period. Traditionally the nyiinka stage could last several years until a boy proved his hunting skills, self-reliance and discipline.

The boys would look through the small hole, watching for kalaya (emu) or malu (kangaroo). They could see the men hiding in the trees with their spears and would watch how they hunted.”

If you look at the photo above, you’ll see the little hole. The history of this place was just remarkable!

Here is another story depicted along the trail:

Lungkata:

“The western face of Uluru reminds us of Lungkata, a greedy and dishonest blue-tongued lizard man who came to Uluru from the north. 

Wati Lungkata the blue-tongued lizard man came from out near Kata Tjuta. he travelled to Uluru, camping halfway at a waterhole. 

At Uluru, Lungkata camped in a cave high on the western face, looking out over where the Cultural Center is today. 

Langkata hunted around the base of the rock. He was hungry and tired. At Pulari he found a wounded kalaya (emu) dragging a spear from another hunt. 

The lizard man knew the wounded bird belonged to someone else and it would be wrong for him to kill and eat it. Yet he was a fat man and saw it as an easy meal. He killed the kalaya and began cooking it. 

Two Panpanpalala (crested bellbird) hunters who had wounded the kalaya were following its tracks. The tracks led them straight to Lungkata and his fire. 

The hunters came up to him and asked, ‘Have you seen our emu?’ 

Hiding the pieces of kalaya behind him, Lungkata told the two hunters he had seen nothing. 

The disappointed Panpanpalala men walked away and followed the kalaya tracks again. they knew Wati Lungkata had lied to them. 

Meanwhile, Lungkata gathered up what he could carry of the emu and ran westwards to his cave high in the rock, dropping pieces of meat behind him. 

You can still see the kalaya’s thigh as part of Uluru. 

The trail that Lungkata left was easy to follow, and the two Panpanpalala caught up with him. they made a huge fire at the base of the rock under his cave. 

The greedy and dishonest thief choked on the smoke and was burnt by the flames. He rolled down the side of Uluru, leaving strips of burnt flesh on the rock as he fell. 

As his flesh came away, lungkata became smaller and smaller until eventually he became a small, solitary stone. The smoke and ash from the fire still stain the side of Uluru’s steep slopes above Langkata’s body. 

This story reminds us what happens to the greedy and dishonest.”

At this location on the Base Walk around Uluru, we were not allowed to take pictures because of the sacred meaning it held to the people, but it was interesting to hear the story. Here’s a section of rock from an area where we were allowed to take photos that looked somewhat similar…

Uluru

Uluru

There were so many unusual flowers in the area too.

flowers

flowers

When we got to the end of our base walk, there was an area where you could climb Uluru.

to climb, or not to climb?

to climb, or not to climb?

If you look in the center of the photo, you can see a small fence that runs up the rock. It was closed on the day we were there, due to the high winds. I find it interesting, however, that the Aboriginal people ask you not to climb Uluru as a matter of respect to their culture.

Though since October 26, 1985, the Anangu (Aboriginal people) have ownership of the land back, it remains on a 99 year lease to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Service. As soon as the lease is up, the Anangu are closing down the climb.

A nearby sign reads:

“We, the Anangu traditional owners, have this to say: Uluru is sacred in our culture. It is a place of great knowledge. Under our traditional law climbing is not permitted. 

This is our home.  As custodians, we are responsible for your safety and behavior. Too many people do not listen to our message. Too many people have died or been hurt causing great sadness. We worry about you and we worry about your family. 

Please don’t climb. We invite you to walk around the base and discover a deeper understanding of this place…

…For visitor safety, cultural and environmental reasons the park is working towards closing the climb permanently. 

An old way of thinking? Since the 1940s Uluru has been promoted as a place to climb. Organised tours traced the explorers’ steps, planting a flag at the summit. This act of conquering evokes strong emotions of pride, achievement and ownership. 

Challenge your perspective. Is it right to continue, knowing what we know today? Is this a place to conquer – or a place to connect with?

We invite you to open your hearts and minds to the power of this landscape and the mysterious Tjukurpa. 

This place has a story…come on a journey.”

Instead of the climb, we went on a guided walk with an Anangu man, Vincent. He told us several more stories from his culture and pointed out several plants that are used for medicine. Some had quite interesting smells!

a plant used for medicine

a plant used for medicine

explaining some of the cave paintings

explaining some of the cave paintings

telling us the stories of the Anangu people by writing symbols in the sand

telling us the stories of the Anangu people by writing symbols in the sand

markings in the side of Uluru where men had sharpened their spears and weapons

markings in the side of Uluru where men had sharpened their spears and weapons

I could go on for quite a while about the cultural history of this place, but I already have, so I’ll move on!

After our tour we visited the Cultural Center. We were not allowed to take photographs, but it was basically a museum displaying the Anangu culture and artwork. They even had artwork for purchase and a woman painting outside. I wish we had a bit more time to spend there, but it was time to drive to our next campsite near Kings Canyon.

We made a stop along Lasseter Highway at Mount Connor, also known as Fool-uru. Many people drive out into the outback, see Mount Connor, and head home, thinking they have laid eyes on the famed Uluru (hence the nickname).

Mount Connor

Mount Connor

We also saw Lake Amadeus, a dried salt lake (or what remains of it anyway). At the moment, it’s pretty much just a salt plain.

Lake

Lake Amadeus

We arrived at our second campsite, unloaded,  prepared dinner, and tucked in for the night. We would be in for a 4 hour hike through Kings Canyon the next morning.

my tent

my tent

tent interior

tent interior

the kitchen

the kitchen

Kings Canyon was gorgeous! We started the morning climbing some quite steep steps, and no one can deny we got our cardio in this day!

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

It’s hard to give you an idea of the sheer size of this place, so you’ll just all have to go and visit for yourselves! I took sooooo many pictures of rocks! Haha!

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

I think we were supposed to stay together as a group, but some were obviously better hikers than others and ended up going ahead. Our Adventure Tours guide, Mel tended to hang towards the back to make sure everyone was doing okay.

At one point, Sarah and I (another girl on the tour) decided to sit and wait for the rest of the group to catch up so we didn’t get too far ahead. After about 15-20 minutes, we started to think something was wrong. After going back a little bit, we realized that we had walked on a “turn around” portion of the trail. It was still along the main path, but the rest of our group probably walked straight past us, opting to skip the turn around path! Oops!

We half-sprinted (as best as we could) along the main path to get to the waterhole. We couldn’t decide if they had already taken their break at the waterhole and gone on or if we should go down that pathway in the hopes that we’d find the rest of our group waiting there.

Thank goodness we went for the waterhole, because there they all were! We didn’t get much of a rest, but we found them! If all else would have failed, we knew to follow the blue arrows back to the car park, but talk about a little bit of a side adventure!

The mounds of sand you see here are basically fossilised sand dunes and rock domes. It was rather interesting. The Luritja people say that the domes are young kuninga men who traveled through the area during the Tjukurpa (or Dreamtime).  Kuninga is the Lunjitja word for the Western Quoll, an Australian marsupial.

sand dunes

sand dunes

After about 3-4 hours, our hike came to an end and it was time to head back to Alice Springs. Most of my tour group went their separate ways after this, but 3 other individuals and I went on to complete our 5 day tour up to Darwin. We spent the night at Haven Backpackers in Alice Springs to meet up at 11am the next morning.

Part 2 coming soon…

Time to Explore the Bush Country

Australia is known for its reefs, radical surfing, glamorous beaches, and fuzzy koalas, but this iconic image barely scratches the surface.

Much of Australia’s population is concentrated in the temperate (blue), tropical (dark green), and subtropical (light green) regions of the country. About 70% of Australia exists outside of these zones, in grassland and desert territories. This area is commonly refered to as the Outback.

There is no “official” start or end to the Outback. When I asked my roommates how they would define it, they answered, “The country, or the bush.” It’s the area where civilization is no longer a commonality. Take this map for example (click for a larger image):

Image from http://www.aifs.gov.au/

Geographic Remoteness in Australia
Image from http://www.aifs.gov.au/

Most of the country is enveloped in the dark blue area and classified as very remote. This is the land of dingoes, kangaroos, goanna lizards, snakes, insects, and even crocodiles… It’s also an expanse of heartbreaking beauty and amazing culture!

Feral camel populations, as mentioned in the video, have reached outrageous numbers. So much so, that culling has been resorted to as a solution.

The issue has been hotly debated, and with the culling program set to end in December of this year, demands for a future management plan come into play. There’s even a full-fledged 47 minute documentary on YouTube covering the issue: Camels in the Outback. While many look at them as a problem, some have found that camels can be used as an economic resource, bringing in tourism dollars (more on this later).

Another interesting environmental issue revolves around dingoes. In the 1880’s a fence was built across lower Australia in an attempt to keep dingoes away from sheep herds. At 5,500 kilometres long (that’s 3,417.5 miles), it’s about 3 times longer than the Great Wall of China. The fences effectiveness has come into question, but that’s a story for another time…

Image from http://dingofence.com/

Dingo Fence
Image from http://dingofence.com/

What I wanted to talk about is my upcoming trip to this desolate land! During the second trimester, we have a brief break from classes mid-August. I figured this was the perfect chance to get out and explore a bit of the countryside. I was originally debating between traveling to the Outback or New Zealand, and while I’d like to see New Zealand someday, I figured I couldn’t really say I had been to Australia until I had traveled to the bush country! Bill Bryson, an American travel author, wrote:

“[Australia] is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures – the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish – are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. … If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.”

In an attempt to avoid “an unhappy death in the baking outback,” I decided to book a tour. I loved the 3-day tour experience I had in Tasmania, and it’s a convenient way to travel, so I looked for another group. I decided upon the 5 Day Alice Springs to Darwin Explorer (including Uluru) Tour offered through Adventure Tours.

Tour Map Image from http://www.adventuretours.com.au/

My Tour Map
Image from http://www.adventuretours.com.au/

The tour starts in Alice Springs (the dot in the middle of the map). Alice Springs was originally inhabited by Arrernte Aboriginal people, calling the land Mparntwe (pronounced mbarn-twa). In 1862, John McDouall Stuart passed through the area with the goal to expand white settlement. By 1872, the Overland Telegraph Line was constructed, running from Adelaide to Darwin, opening up the area to colonization. The discovery of gold near the site in 1887, however, was what drove many individuals to settle in the land. Eventually Afghan cameleers came (hence the feral camel populations) and a railway was constructed connecting Alice Springs with Adelaide in 1929 and with Darwin in 2004.

Oddly enough, the town has a bit of an identity crisis in its history. It was known as Stuart until the 1930’s. Surveyor W.W. Mills, however, was exploring while the Overland Telegraph Line was being built. He named a nearby waterhole “Alice Springs” after the Alice Todd, the wife of the Superintendent of Telegraphs Sir Charles Todd. Since the Alice Springs Telegraph Station was named after the watering hole, administrators became quite confused, as the station was located in Stuart. In an attempt to reduce the headache for all, the town was renamed Alice Springs in 1933.

I’ll be arriving in Alice Springs on the morning before the tour begins (since it leaves at 6:00am in the morning), and staying at Alice Springs Haven Backpacker Resort. The next morning, the tour starts off with a visit to a camel farm where we have the opportunity to ride a camel! It’s noted in our tour itinerary that this is an optional experience at our own expense, so I emailed the tour company to find out how much it would be. They responded that it’s about $5-7 dollars… As long as I don’t get spit on, it’s worth it!

After visiting the camel farm we drive to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. We visit Kata Tjuta and go on the Valley of the Winds Hike. Kata Tjuta is the name given to the area by the Aborigines, and means “many heads.”  It’s also known as The Olgas, and is about 30 kilometers from Uluru. It gets its name from the consists of more than 36 rounded red sandstone domes. The view of the sunset on Uluru from Kata Tjuta is supposed to be quite beautiful.

Interestingly, this land is owned by the Anangu Aborigional people who live there, and the land is enriched with history and cultural significance. There are many sacred sites, and I hope I have the opportunity to hear some of the stories that are woven into the land.

For our first night, we’ll be sleeping under the stars. Camping! I’m looking forward to it! I’ve heard the desert can get quite cold at night. You can provide your own sleeping bag, or Adventure Tours does sell them for $30. I asked about this, since I’m an international student and probably won’t be able to bring an entire sleeping bag back to the United States with me. Apparently, if you need to get rid of your newly purchased sleeping bag, Adventure Tours will take them to the Salvation Army for you. From there, they make their way to the homes of Aboriginal families in the area. Not a bad idea! If that’s where it ends up, it’s $30 well spent in my opinion.

Day 2 begins with a walk around Uluru at sunrise. A cultural walk with an Aboriginal guide is scheduled for us to learn more about the Mala people. “Mala” are rufous hare-wallabies, and though they once inhabited this area, they are now extinct in the wild.

European settlers sealed their fate by introducing new predators, such as cats and foxes, and by altering the natural fire regime. For the Anangu Aboriginal people, the Mala hold a special spiritual significance. In their culture, they believe that the Mala have watched over and guided them from the rocky crevices of Uluru. They celebrate the Mala through culture, story, song, and dance. The Mala are thought to have influenced their everyday relationships, plants and animals, and even their understanding of how they should care for the land. I find cultural stories and legends fascinating, so hopefully I’ll be able to hear a few more on this part of the tour. We also visit the Uluru Cultural Centre to check out the Aboriginal arts and crafts before our day comes to an end.

After that, we head to Watarrka National Park in Kings Canyon where we set up at our exclusive campsite for the night.

The next morning we have time to wander around Kings Canyon. We’ll see the Amphitheatre, the Lost City (which apparently got its name because the sandstone formations resemble Aztec cities),  the Garden of Eden (thusly named because of the natural spring waterhole that has formed at the bottom of a chasm, surrounded by local and exotic plants), and South Wall.

By nightfall we head back to Alice Springs and spend the night at a hostile.

On day 4 we cross the Tropic of Capricorn on our drive to Karlu Karlu, also known as Devils Marbles. Karlu Karlu, which literally translates to “round boulders,” are also owned by the Aboriginal people, as it has a sacred significance to them. It gets its name because of the round, granite boulders that are oddly stacked on top of each other all around the valley. Geologists have determined that these strange formations were created when molten rock surged upward through the crust and solidified under a layer of sandstone. Over time, the sandstone was worn away, and the odd granite structures remain. They form a home for creatures like Fairy Martins, goanna, and Zebra and Painted Finches.

Devils Marbles  Image from http://goaustralia.about.com/

Devils Marbles
Image from http://goaustralia.about.com/

We stop in the town of Tennant Creek before beginning our overnight ride to Katherine.

On the morning of day 5, we head to Nitmiluk National Park, which is operated by the Jawoyn Aboriginal and Northern Territory Government. While here, we will be visiting Katherine Gorge, which was established as a national park in 1962. Before the 1960’s, it is said that non-native visitors to the area greatly upset the balance of nature. According to the Jawoyan people, Bolong, a rainbow serpent, was disturbed. Bolung is said to live in the deep pools in the second gorge, and represents both life and destruction though lightening and flooding monsoons. The Jawoyn people’s food sources were scarce and their way of life was threatened. Until 1964, even when employed in the cattle, food, tobacco, and clothing industries, their pay was lower than that of non-aboriginal workers. Eventually these practices changed, being granted Australian citizenship in 1967, and gaining independence, full wages, and better work conditions with the acceptance of the Aboriginal Land RIghts Act in 1976.

Katherine Gorge Image from http://www.waytoaustralia.com.au/

Katherine Gorge
Image from http://www.waytoaustralia.com.au/

Today, the Jawoyan people operate the park, working to educate their children and the public about their ways of life, nature, and conservation. Tradition is very important to them, and they still hunt and fish in the area. The Jawoyan law is still respected and taught. I’m hoping to pick up some interesting cultural stories from the experience.

While at the gorge, we have the option to take a 2 hour breakfast cruise at our own expense or to go for a short walk to Baruwei lookout and take some photos.

At the end of our time here, we head into Darwin to end out tour. Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory and was founded in 1869. The harbour was originally discovered by John Lort Stokes, the Captain of the Beagle. The ship name might be ringing a bell for those of you who are science-minded… Stokes named the harbour after his former shipmate, Charles Darwin. As with many areas in the Outback, the town’s growth really took off with the discovery of gold in neighboring areas.

Interestingly, Darwin played an important role in World War II. It was the location of the first enemy attack on Australian soil in February of 1942, when it was heavily bombed by Japan. More than 243 people died, eight ships were sunk, and 24 aircraft were demolished. Over about the course of a year and a half, over 60 air raids took place over Darwin.

Darwin bombing in 1942  Image from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/

Darwin bombing in 1942
Image from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/

Eventually, with the end of the war, Darwin was able to regain its footing and establish a local government. Cyclone Tracy, however, wreaked havoc in the area, taking the lives of 66 people while injuring thousands more. It ended up being the site of the largest airlift in Australian history when over 30,000 of the 45,000 residents were re-located to nearby cities. Many of these people, however, returned to Darwin.

It seems to have had a rocky history, but an interesting one at that. Lately things seem to be looking slightly better for the city. My flight leaves at 2am, so I’m sure I’ll have a bit of time to wander around the city and check it out.

I can’t wait for this trip! I’m looking forward to the cultural experience, nature hikes, and camel rides! I’ll hopefully come back with some great pictures and stories to share! Stay tuned!

Exploring Sydney and Cairns: Part 2

After our super early morning flight, Mom and I arrived in Cairns around 9:30am. When we arrived at the hotel we were told that we had been upgraded to a room with a balcony (though no ocean view rooms were available at this point). My dad travels a lot for work and I believe he has a Holiday Inn Gold Membership, which comes in handy sometimes! Later on in the week we asked if an ocean view was available, and it was! For a few nights we had a nice open balcony overlooking the water.

panoramic view from our hotel room

panoramic view from our hotel room

The weather in Cairns was much warmer, and our first afternoon we wandered down the boardwalk. The tide was out when we went down, and there was a massive mud flat. I was slightly fascinated, since mud flat habitats had been included in my studies as part of our Marine and Coastal Ecosystems class.

the mud flat

the mud flat

Even though it looks pretty barren, mud flats are actually highly productive and important ecosystems. Many  fish and birds for example rely on these areas as a food source. They munch on the invertebrates and other creatures that burrow into the sediments. These areas also have very little wave energy, allowing birds to use them as resting areas. You’ll also generally find quite a few crustaceans (like crabs), polychaetes (worms), and molluscs (like mussels). I’ll save you from going into too much detail, but there’s generally more to an environment than meets the eye, especially when the organisms burrow into the sediments.

We also found this warning semi-entertaining… Welcome to Cairns!

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Apparently saltwater crocodiles have been known to inhabit the area, though we never saw any along this particular stretch of beach.

There was also a friendly pod of pelicans (yes, that’s the appropriate group name) that seemed to gather in the same spot every afternoon. Being from Wisconsin, I though it was pretty awesome to see pelicans in their natural environment.

pod of pelicans

pod of pelicans

I think I enjoyed Cairns a bit better than Sydney, simply because the air was cleaner and there was less city surrounding you. It was also a bit more tourist-focused, which made shopping a bit more fun. Sydney was nice, but we didn’t do much shopping in the ritzy stores that seemed quite common. As we walked around, Mom found the Sushi Train. She loves sushi and was quite entertained since she’d never seen it served in this way before.

the sushi train

the sushi train

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Basically, the little train goes around pulling cars with sushi on various plates. You choose the plate that looks most tempting to you. Prices are indicated by the design on the plate you choose.

The next day we looked for E Finger, which was the name of the pier that we would be meeting at for our dive on the Great Barrier Reef. We explored the shoreline for a while and soaked up the wonderful sunshine that we hadn’t seen in a few days!

When we got back to our hotel room, we had this nice little visiter…

gekko

gecko

Apparently they come with the room free of charge along with some sugar ants. In tropical climates, its hard to avoid!

The night after my dad arrived in Cairns, we had our dive scheduled for the Great Barrier Reef! We woke up early in the morning to get to our dive boat. We went with Tusa Dive T6.

family photo before boarding the boat

family photo before boarding the boat

Once on board, we filled out paperwork and signed waivers. The other vacationers on the boat were fellow divers, trying to get certified to be a diver, or simply there to snorkel. They went through safety information and off we went! The entire trip out to the reef took about an hour and a half. Once we started going, all divers had to go upstairs for a briefing about our dives.

We participated in 3 dives throughout the day at two different locations.

map of the reef Image from http://www.silverseries.com.au/

map of the reef
Image from http://www.silverseries.com.au/

Our first site was at Flynn Reef (the top orange spot–you can see a larger version if you click on the photo). Here, we dove at a section known as Tennis Court.

Flynn Reef- Tennis Courts Image from http://www.prodivecairns.com/

Flynn Reef- Tennis Court
Image from http://www.prodivecairns.com/

Our first dive was around 10am. It was a bit tricky getting suited up and remembering where everything goes. Tusa provided all of the gear, though we had brought our own masks and snorkels. They gave Mom and Dad cut-off wet suits, but graciously gave me a full-length one, since I tend to retain my body heat rather poorly. It had been quite a while since any of us had dived! Between the three of us though, we figured it out. They took a photo of all of us before we made the plunge!

don't we all look scuba savvy

don’t we all look scuba savvy

To speed up the process, we weren’t allowed to put on or remove our own fins. When you reached the back of the boat (teetering with the weight of your tank), you had to hold out one foot at a time, and they put your fins on for you. Once you were all clipped in to your awkward footwear, you stood on the edge of the back of the boat. Holding your regulator (breathing apparatus) and mask to your face with one hand and your BCD (buoyancy control device–the vest-like things that your tank clips into and controls your floaty-ness) with the other, we stepped into the water while looking straight across the water (NOT down!–your mask tends to fly off your face if you’re looking down into the water).

This diagram helps break down the dive gear for the non-divers out there:

scuba equipment

scuba equipment (click the image for a larger view)
Image from http://www.allstaractivities.com/

My first thought when we jumped in was, “It’s warm!” It wasn’t bath water by any means, but it was a hot spring compared to the Wisconsin lakes I did my open water testing in towards the end of October! The water was 24˚C (about 75˚F for the Americans out there). Once our entire dive group was in the water, we emptied our BCD’s of air and followed a rope from the boat down to the bottom. One of the first things I saw as we went down the rope was this little fish swimming in front of my goggles. I don’t know what type it was, but it had this metallic blue sheen on the front of its head. I knew the dive was going to be unlike anything else I had experienced.

Once we all made it to the bottom, our guide started to lead us around the reef. My mom, who had problems equalizing (balancing out her ear pressure with the pressure of the water) during her open water dives didn’t struggle with it this time! Since it was our first real dive though, we all had issues at one point or another with staying neutrally buoyant. Mom and Dad both randomly floated to the top at certain stages. It’s rather humorous to be swimming along and then oops!… there they go! Figuring out how much air you need in your BCD just takes some getting used to. At one stage, someone had floated up (I can’t remember who at the moment) and I was watching Mom. I didn’t realize I was floating upwards, because she was at the same level as me, but the next thing I knew everyone was deeper than we were! Oops! We had both floated up! That was the only time I started to float upwards. I paid more attention to where the bottom of the ocean was after that!

Another one of the first things I noticed were all of the sea cucumbers! They were everywhere! I know other people probably weren’t very impressed with them, but I was fascinated and super excited to see them! I sort of wanted to see a pearl fish, but no such luck (for more information about the pearl fish, check out the video about sea cucumbers on my previous blog post: Echinodermata: Those with the Spiny Skin).

The reef itself was so cool! It’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t been there to see it for themselves, but the colors and structures are unfathomable.

Throughout the dive, our guide would regularly turn around and signal to us that we should tell him how many bar we had left in our tank (the pressure of air remaining). We started at 200 bar, and when we got down to 50, we needed to surface. Dad ran out of air fairly quickly and had to surface early, so they gave him a bigger tank for our next dive.

All too soon our first dive came to an end and we all had to surface. Our dives were roughly 30 minutes (though I think our last dive was 42 minutes). They offered us fruit and gave us 15 minutes at the surface before descending again around 11am. I was given a cut-off suit to put over my full-length one. I was fine once I was in the water, but once I was at the surface and in the wind I’d start shivering uncontrollably. I have to admit though, the second layer in the water did insulate quite a bit more!

For our second dive we did a free descent. In other words, we didn’t use a rope. I think I was more buoyant because of the second wet suit, but when my BCD was empty, I was still stuck floating at the top. Our dive guide put some more weights into my BCD and the problem was rectified! This dive was at the same location and pretty similar to the first, though at this stage, we were all a bit braver and ready to investigate things a bit more.

At one point, our guide pointed out a giant clam to us. He touched the inside and it snapped shut. I had to try it out! It felt rubbery and slippery. The clam was just trying to catch some food with its efforts, but it was fascinating. It’s like watching a venus fly trap close around a fly.

This YouTube video gives you an idea of what it was like:

We saw so many fish. I couldn’t tell you what types they were; I’m no ichthyologist, but we’ll suffice to say they were awesome! I know there were some parrot fish, clown fish, some that looked like Gill from Finding Nemo (most likely a Moorish Idol), and lots, lots more.

Gill and Nemo Image from http://kidstvmovies.about.com/

Gill and Nemo
Image from http://kidstvmovies.about.com/

It was amazing to see all of the fish disappear as you swam over the coral. There would be little schools of fish all around a grouping of coral, and all of a sudden they would be gone… retreating into the nooks and crannies of the reef. I also found the little micro-ecosystems fascinating. There would be little clumps of coral surrounded by vast areas of sand. Over these tiny clumps of coral there would be high concentrations of fish, all of them sticking to this little clump of coral for protection. It was interesting.

I also got really excited when I saw a camouflaged fish that we were swimming over. Again, I don’t know what type they were, but while the other fish swam for cover, these masters of disguise simply sat at the bottom, relying upon their coloration for protection. All sorts of different defenses were used. I would have been stoked to see an octopus, squid, or cuttlefish, but these guys can pretty much become invisible when they want to. You really have to know what you’re looking for when they decide to use their camouflage.

On this dive Mom struggled to stay down at the bottom again, so our guide ended up towing her with him for a lot of the dive. I’m sort of jealous, since he was able to point things out to her from this position that I was unable to see. For example, she saw a nudibranch (a colorful sea-slug)!

One of my biggest memories on this dive, was when Dad hit me in the face and knocked my regulator out! It is rather difficult to control your body movements in an underwater environment, and it’s difficult to see where people are around you. Thank goodness I’m not a panicky person! I just sort of laughed, stuck my regulator back in my mouth, cleared it, and kept on breathing as Dad looked at me with bulgey eyes! Underwater communication is fantastic. Expressions can say so much sometimes.

The second memory (and my favorite) was when we saw the green sea turtle just before surfacing. Tusa has a photographer that dives with us, and she was holding pieces of seaweed to tempt the turtle into photogenic positions. Dad missed the sea turtle because he had to surface a bit earlier again, but Mom got in there for a shot. I had to surface at this point, but Mom said she was able to touch the turtle and hold out a piece of coral for it to munch (… again, jealous!).

me with the sea turtle

me with the sea turtle

I saw Wally on my way up to the surface. He’s a Maori wrasse that often visits divers from the boat. I didn’t get any photos with him, but he was massive! If I’d have to guess, I’d say he was only slightly longer than I am tall.

After our second dive, we had to change into our normal clothes to go inside for the lunch they served. We tried to soak up some sun as they drove us to our second dive site.

This dive site was Milln Reef, which is right next to Flynn Reef. Our guide told us we dove at Club 10, but when I google that location I don’t find anything, and according to the Tusa Dive site, we dove at Canyons… so I’m a bit unsure of what part of Milln Reef we were at.

Milln Reef

Milln Reef

When we arrived, we suited up again and jumped in! This was another free descent dive and at this stage, we were all pretty good at remaining neutrally buoyant!

One of the most remarkable pieces of coral was this metallicy blue stuff. I’m not sure what type of coral it was, but it sure stood out on the white sand. I also saw some thin threads coming out from the coral. I’m not sure what they were, but they reminded me of the thread-like extensions from a spaghetti worm. I still want to look into that a bit further. (Check out my post, Annelids: A Rather Squirmy Lab, for more information on spaghetti worms.)

On this dive, Mom decided it was her turn to hit me in the face! Apparently there was a target on my goggles that I was unaware of. She didn’t manage to dislodge my regulator, but the expression on her face when she realized what she did was priceless.

We found another giant clam on this dive (I couldn’t resist touching) and another green sea turtle! I turned around and signaled to Dad that there was a turtle up ahead! He wasn’t going to miss this one! I made it my personal mission to make sure of it!

By the end of this dive, I was starting to get chilled, but I wasnt ready to get out of the water. When we did surface, someone started removing my flippers before I was even seated! It’s slightly unsettling to be in the water and all of a sudden have something grab your foot. Amazingly, the thought of sharks never bothered me on the dive. I actually would have probably been pretty excited if we did see one (minus a great white).

When we were all undressed/redressed we went upstairs to fill out our dive log books as the boat drove us back to shore. It was about 4:30pm when we got back in. What a day! I wish we had dives every day, but we got the last bit of nice weather before the ocean got a bit rough throughout the week. I can’t wait to get back into the ocean again.

The next morning, after all of us had gotten some much-needed sleep, we went down to see the sunrise over the ocean. The clouds blocked the sun a bit, but it was still beautiful.

sunrise

sunrise

This was a full-on vacation day for us, with no tours planned. The next day, however, was another highlight, our tour of Daintree Rainforest!

We were up around 7am for our tour pickup. We went with Billy Tea Safaris. After we picked up several other tour group members from their various hotels, we began the drive up to Daintree. We drove along the ocean coast, so we had lots of beautiful views. Mom and Dad even got to see a field that was covered in dozens of wallabies! Our guide was quite the talker. I’m pretty sure he never stopped talking all the way to the rainforest (the drive was probably over an hour).

In order to get to the rainforest, we had to cross the Daintree River on a cable ferry. We literally drove onto a platform that moved back and forth across the river. It was rather interesting. According to our guide, part of the reason they hadn’t built a bridge was in an attempt to keep the number of visitors and traffic in the rainforest at a minimum.

the cable ferry

the cable ferry

on the cable ferry

our view on the cable ferry

Once we crossed, we drove to the Alexandra Range and walked along one of the National Boardwalks. My mission for the day was to find a cassowary! That was the main reason I had selected to do this tour, and I wasn’t leaving until I found one! As we walked our guide talked on (and on, and on) about plants. He told us the scientific names, what the scientific names meant, how old the plants supposedly were, etc. I suppose it was interesting… but it wasn’t a cassowary. We did, however, find lots of cassowary plums. Apparently they love to munch on these things.

cassowary plum

cassowary plum

The buttress roots from the trees were pretty neat. The area reminded me a lot of my trip to Costa Rica. They’re basically really wide roots that don’t go very deep into the soil. The design is supposed to help give the tree support and strength while helping it gather more nutrients in the nutrient poor soils of rainforests.

buttress roots

buttress roots

We also came across a gigantic orb spider that I was rather fascinated with.

orb spider

orb spider

Our next stop was Emmagen Creek for our “morning tea” and an optional swim. On the way there we came across this altered cassowary crossing sign. The bottom sign was supposed to be for a speed bump… Instead it indicated what would happen if drivers didn’t slow down and keep their eyes peeled for unawares birds.

cassowary crossing

cassowary crossing

Our tea consisted of a tropical fruit tasting, damper, and Billy Tea. For the fruit, we tried Amazonian custard apple (which was my favorite it was really creamy, like custard, and had a mellow sweet flavor), custard apple (which was a bit more grainy and tasted rather like strawberry preserves), lemonade fruit (which was supposed to taste like lemonade but didn’t taste like much of anything to me), sugar banana (which tasted like banana… go figure), yellow sapote (which was pasty and did not agree with my taste buds), chocolate pudding fruit (which I’m pretty sure wasnt ripe enough it’s supposed to be completely brown when you eat it and taste like chocolate pudding… ours was green and pasty and didn’t taste like anything), and passion fruit (which has a really strong lemony, pineappley, odd flavor… I’m not a fan of all the seeds).

clockwise starting from the bottom right, we had... sugar banana, custard apple, chocolate pudding fruit, Amazonian custard apple, yellow sapote, lemonaid fruit, and passion fruit

clockwise starting from the bottom right, we had… sugar banana, custard apple, chocolate pudding fruit, Amazonian custard apple, yellow sapote, lemonade fruit, and passion fruit

Damper is a traditional Australian soda bread first developed by stockmen. It was quick, easy, and transportable, as the recipe consisted of dry ingredients (besides water). It gets its name from the traditional method of cooking, damping the fire and burying the bread in ash and hot coals. It’s traditionally eaten with meats or golden syrup. Today there are many variations to the recipe, and ours happened to have raisins added. Our guide coated it with golden syrup. The small piece that I sampled tasted a lot like raisin bread.
damper and billy tea

damper and Billy Tea

The Billy Tea was cooked in a billycan, a cooking pot designed to be placed over the campfire.

The billycan is thought to get its name from the time of the exploration of the Outback, when the cans that were used to transport bouilli or bully beef. According to another line of thought, the term comes from the Aboriginal word “billa,” which means water. Either way, the tea is made by throwing fistfuls of tea leaves into the pot of water and boiling them over an open fire. When the tea is ready, you’re left with the problem of leaves floating in your tea. To get them to go to the bottom, our guide explained that you simply swing the billycan over your head, which he proceeded to demonstrate, swinging his arms over his head like the arms of a clock. Thank goodness he swung fast enough that it didn’t all come sloshing out on his head.

The tea itself was okay. I’ll stick with my chai and peppermint tea though, thank you.

Afterwards we headed down to Cape Tribulation Beach. I found the vinegar station quite entertaining, though I’m sure it comes in handy!

beware of the jellies

beware of the jellies

We saw lots of little holes in the sand surrounded by these perfectly spherical balls of sand on our way up to the photographers platform. It turns out they were made by these itty-bitty little crabs. We were somewhat puzzled as to how they made the round globs of sand.

crab in his burrow

crab in his burrow

Cape Tribulation Beach

Cape Tribulation Beach

There were also mangroves all along the water, which were quite beautiful.

Mom and Dad in the mangroves

Mom and Dad in the mangroves

Mangroves themselves are quite fascinating. They have very wide, odd root structures as well as pneumatophores. Pneumatophores are basically aerial roots. The trees grow  upwards, out of the sand in an attempt to get more oxygen. They come in handy especially when the tide is up and when the soils are saturated.

mangroves and pneumatophores

mangroves and pneumatophores

Many of the trees we saw also had spikes sticking off of them. It seems to be a common theme with rainforest plants, as I saw many similar trees in Costa Rica. The vines here also get these crazy shapes.

spiky trees

spiky trees

crazy vine shapes

crazy vine shapes

We found these birds that looked like turkeys but had bright red heads… I googled, and come to find out they’re brush turkeys… Go figure…

brush turkey

brush turkey

After our half hour on the beach, it was time to head to Lync Haven, an animal refuge center for some lunch. Steaks were on the menu, but they kindly made me a veggie patty.

steaks

steaks- on the Aussie barbie

veggie patty

veggie patty

They had some snakes and birds for us to check out, but the highlight was definitely when we went for a little walk and found some cassowary!!!! They were back behind the trees at first, with our whole tour group there. After catching glimpses of them behind the trees for a while, it was time to go feed the kangaroo and wallaby.

By this point, I had already fed kangaroo twice, so I was less than enthusiastic to leave the cassowary. I decided to stay behind (the kangaroo area was pretty close by) and see if they would come out of the trees when everyone was gone.

They did!!!

It was a male and a female with a chick! I was so excited and fascinated. Cassowary are beautiful, but they also have beautifully long, 3-inch claws that they can use to disembowel anything they view as a predator. Knowing that males can be quite defensive of their young, I tried to maintain my distance and resist getting as close as possible! It was so awesome to see though! I never expected to see a chick! It kept walking towards me, and I kept backing up (as much as I didn’t want to!). Definitely a highlight of the trip!

cassowary

cassowary

cassowary and chick

cassowary and chick

cassowary chick

cassowary chick

male and female cassowary

male and female cassowary

cassowary chick going after cassowary plums

cassowary chick going after cassowary plums

Our guide said it was extremely rare to see them traveling in groups like that. In all his years here, he’s never seen it. The male usually takes care of the chicks individually, without the female present. His interpretation was that the male might have been trying to woo the female by showing that he can raise a healthy chick.

Seeing them totally made my day… The only thing that could make it more prefect, would be finding saltwater crocodiles!

After they were done feeding the kangaroo and wallaby, Dad told me it was time to go and we hopped in the vehicle to get to our Daintree River Cruise.

We hopped on a boat for an hour with a river guide. The first animal we found was a juvenile saltwater crocodile. We found a total of 3 juveniles throughout our trip. We also found 2 adults. They’re such awesome, powerful animals. They were all sunbathing in an attempt to warm up their body temperatures.

jouvenile

juvenile saltwater croc

adult saltwater croc

adult saltwater croc

We also saw several rare birds. The first was a Rufous/Nankeen Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus).

Nycticorax caledonicus

Roufous/Nankeen Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus)

We also saw two different types of kingfisher. According to our guide, these were also quite rare to see. There was an azure kingfisher (Alcedo azurea) and the second was a little kingfisher (Alcedo pusilla).

little and azure kingfishers (click the photo for a larger image--they're quite small)

little and azure kingfishers (click the photo for a larger image and look for the little dots of blue–they’re quite small)

The tree snakes we saw were also pretty cool. Our guide saw the larger one up top, and I pointed out that there was also a smaller snake down below. (All those days of pointing out animals to guests at Disney and the Houston Zoo come in handy sometimes.)

tree snakes

tree snakes

Daintree River

Daintree River

Our river cruise came to an end and it was time to head back to the hotel. It was quite the day!

For the rest of the week we didn’t have anything booked, so we made our own schedules. One night, Mom and Dad decided they wanted to sample the local cuisine of kangaroo and crocodile. Being vegetarian, I passed on this little venture, but took advantage of the Kodak moment…

getting ready to dig in

getting ready to dig in

kangaroo, crocodile, beef, and chips

kangaroo, crocodile, beef, and chips

According to them, the kangaroo was very tender and along the same lines as venison, while the crocodile flavor reminded them slightly of fish.

They also sampled the octopus one night…

octopus

octopus

I guess it was rather chewy. We got the food from the Night Market, which was just down the street from our hotel. It was basically a little tourist trap. They had a bunch of vendors set up in the front, selling trinkets and souveners, and in the back they had a little cluster of eating places. They had everything you could think of in the shops. There were sweatshirts and t-shirts, opals, kangaroo and crocodile jerkey, kangaroo pelts, wood carvings, a pouch made out of kangaroo placenta (I didn’t ask), a crocodile arm backscratcher, a kangaroo arm beer opener, jewelry, honey, candles and incense, disco lights, and all these people offering massages. Mom and Dad really needed to learn how to not make eye-contact! Haha, Dad got at least a dozen offers. He must look like the sort of guy who needed a message!

I’m not a big jewelry person, but I did find an orca ring (I’m rather fascinated with the species) that I couldn’t resist taking home with me. My first Australian souvenier!

orca ring

orca ring

While on the Daintree tour, we learned about the existence of the Cairns Botanic Gardens, so we decided to walk there one day. It was quite the hike, but there were some interesting plants there. We also saw this massive spider web. I started counting the spiders that were in it, and there were at least over a dozen! It was too difficult to get a picture, but there were a lot of spiders!

pitcher plants

pitcher plants

Pitcher plants lure in insects to their slippery edges often with colors or nectar. When the insect approaches the edge, they generally fall in. On the inside of the plant, the walls are coated with a slippery layer and backwards pointing hairs, so the insect finds itself trapped and only able to climb down… right into the liquid at the bottom of the plant. This liquid usually contains digestive enzymes and both drowns and digests the insect. It’s not a pleasant way to die.

orchid

orchid

even carnivorous plants have decided to go vegetarian

even carnivorous plants have decided to go vegetarian

venus fly traps

venus fly traps

Dad was fascinated with the massive trees

Dad was fascinated with the massive trees

We also found a little lizard.

lizard

lizard

I was mesmerized by all these odd spiders we kept seeing. I looked it up, and it was a spiny orb-weaver spider (Gasteracantha geminata).

spiny orb-weaver spider (Gasteracantha geminata)

spiny orb-weaver spider (Gasteracantha geminata)
Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/

It had quite the odd body covering. It is thought that the spines might offer some form of protection.

One day, we decided to go to Palm Cove, one of the locations we had picked up some people for the Daintree tour. We hopped on the bus (which in itself proved to be an adventure). None of us were very experienced with busses as a form of public transportation. Dad thought there was a pick-up location at the mall… there wasn’t. We were at the wrong mall! Oh well!

Eventually we found a driver to talk to who told us our best bet would to be to walk down the street a way to the next bus stop, so off we went.

We checked out a few of the small stores in Palm Cove and Mom and Dad stopped at a bar for some food and beverages.

cheers!

cheers!

We also walked out on the pier, but it was super windy! Once we got out there, it started to rain! What a lovely Australian day! Cold and wet, we were ready to go back to the hotel. Flagging down a bus though proved to be another trial. Apparently the first one we tried to catch we were on the wrong side of the street. Then we were at a corner, so apparently they couldn’t stop. When they finally did stop, the lady told us we had to wait 20 minutes when they drove back to Palm Cove because they weren’t going straight to Cairns. Why we couldn’t just hop on for the extra 20 minutes, I’ll never understand. So wait we did! In the wind and rain! The good news is, in the end, we made it back to our hotel!

One of the days (another rainy day), we went to the movie theater in the mall and saw Monsters University. It was pretty cute and a nice backstory to the friendship between Mike and Sully. I had to get my dose of Disney in there somewhere!

On our last day, we purchased a boomerang crafted by a local Aboriginal artist.

artist profile

artist profile

It has a sea turtle on it as a memento to the sea turtles we saw on our trip. 

boomerang

boomerang

All too soon (a common theme on this trip) we were packed up and headed in various directions. Dad flew out the day before Mom and I. Our flight path took us to Sydney, where we spent a night at a hotel near the airport before she flew home and I flew to Warrnambool to start my second trimester.

Rain seems to have followed me here, and it’s rained everyday since I’ve gotten back. I found out though that we’ll be expected to be out of the dorms on October 26th, so my flight has now also been changed to the 26th, meaning I’ll arrive home just in time for my birthday on the 27th! I love the experiences and adventures I’ve had in Australia, but coming home for my birthday sounds like the perfect present!

Now that I’m back, it’s time to start counting down for my final Australian adventures to complete that list of My Top 5 Australian Must-Do’s… the Outback and Steve Irwin’s zoo (The Australia Zoo).